Do you remember what it was like to stand in front of your closet that first day of classes in college? To see the chance to redefine yourself and hope that through a carefully curated outfit, someone would get a glimpse of who you are and be intrigued? Or maybe, did you get a choking sense of anxiety that they wouldn't?
For freshmen who are trying to find their place within Furman’s community, clothing can be an important form of communication. Our personal style influences the way we experience the world by helping us understand ourselves and communicate who we are to those around us. However, the way we dress is only a partial representation of our identity.
Although clothing is an integral part of our lives, people experience fashion in different ways. While some see clothing as a mode of self-expression, others focus more on comfort and functionality. The way one dresses has the power to boost confidence, or lead to anxiety as one tries to “fit in.” The style choices we make undoubtedly affect how others perceive us.
Clothing plays a particularly important role for college freshmen who are trying to find community in a new environment. In the process of making positive first impressions and finding those with similar interests, we often rely on clothing as a marker of identity and means to communicate with one another. This is because the way someone dresses often offers visual cues to their interests. For instance, someone whose clothing is more experimental may be more inclined towards creativity and arts, whereas someone who dresses more professionally could be involved in STEM or business-related fields. Personal style can even be indicative of sexuality. As Rosalind Jana wrote in a 2020 Vogue article titled “The queer icons shaping fashion,” “the worlds of fashion and queer culture have forever been intertwined.”
We tend to gravitate towards those who dress in a similar style to our own, assuming that we are more likely to share common interests or values. This tendency is called homophily, defined by Brittany Gibson in the 2023 Readers Digest article “The Real Reason You and Your Friends Look So Much Alike” as “the tendency for humans to associate themselves with people who have similar backgrounds and views on life.”
Building a community freshman year can be a stressful process, and finding someone who shares elements of your personal style can give you a shared common ground, alleviating some of this stress and even becoming a bonding experience. Many freshmen even first connect with other Furman students through Instagram, based on their perceived aesthetic similarities. Because of these first impressions, as the semester progresses, many students find themselves building friend groups with people with similar style preferences to themselves.
However, fashion is an incomplete portrayal of identity. While freshmen may feel more comfortable talking to those with similar personal styles, by making assumptions about those around them based on the clothing they chose, they limit the number of people they interact with and friendships they form.
Clothing can be a creative form of self-expression that allows us to explore our own identity. For freshmen trying to build a community, it can provide a bonding opportunity that can lead to close-knit friendships. However, we shouldn’t define ourselves or others based on personal style, and keep an open mind when approaching new friendships.